A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 484 – Aladdin (1992)

Aladdin (1992) – June 27th, 2011

The first time I saw this movie was in the theater. Amazingly, one year my mother allowed my brother and I to pick a movie each to go to for our birthdays. Normally, movies in theaters were a forbidden world for us, to be attended only when visiting friends whose parents didn’t mind going to theaters. So the opportunity to go to a theater twice? Holy crap. I don’t know what I picked. No recollection at all. Whatever it was, it wasn’t as memorable as this was, but my birthday came after my brother’s so he got first pick. Oh well. I still got to go.

Now, this is a Disney movie, which means it’s a severely altered version of a classic folktale. It’s not a folktale I’m as familiar with as I am with some of the other things they’ve done (and yes, I still refuse to watch Disney’s Hercules), but it’s pretty obvious that this is not traditional. No classic folktale stars anyone remotely like Robin Williams, after all. The closest I can think of to his particular brand of manic energy would be how I normally think of Loki. But we’re not in Scandinavia in this story. We’re in the Middle East, telling a story about a street thief who gets his hands on a lamp containing a genie.

Visually, this is a gorgeous movie. It uses a combination of 2D hand drawn characters and 3D rendered backgrounds and for the most part that works very nicely. There are a few bits during a daring escape from a collapsing cave where it’s obvious the folks at Disney wanted audiences to know how fancy their 3D rendering tools were, but it’s not obtrusive otherwise. I admit, I do like the old 2D animation with something a little deeper behind it. Ironically, it makes the 2D animation pop more, which is pretty neat in my opinion. But on top of that the movie has a lovely color scheme, full of rich jewel tones. Sure, the red = bad, blue = good thing has been done to death, but it’s played well here. It’s just flat out a pretty movie. I especially love all the transparency effects that are done with veils and smoke and the like. I could put this movie on mute and just watch it for the visuals and be pleased by it. But then I’d miss out on Robin Williams.

Let’s be honest here: I watch this movie for Williams. The visuals are amazing and I do like Jasmine’s independent attitude, but Robin Williams is at the heart of this movie and without him it just wouldn’t shine the way it does. Now, I’m not talking RV or Patch Adams Robin Williams. I’m talking early Robin Williams. Live standup Robin Williams. Radio broadcast Good Morning Vietnam Robin Williams. There’s a great early Williams show that I haven’t seen in years and which is apparently not available on DVD at this time and I found a laserdisc version for sale on eBay but alas, we lack a laserdisc player. And he is wild in it. And that is what I think of when I watch this movie. You can tell he improvised a ton and you can also tell that there was no way some of this stuff couldn’t be used. But much as I love his performance, let’s face it, it was not intended for kids to get. Groucho Marx, Peter Lorre, Arsenio Hall, Ed Sullivan, Jack Nicholson and more I can’t even name or remember to name, and they’re good impressions made better by the animation. But what seven year old knows who Peter Lorre was? Still, I’m not complaining. Because I do indeed love Robin Williams.

By far the musical highlight for me is the introduction of Aladdin as Prince Ali, which is sung mostly by Robin Williams. It’s a hugely fun number featuring tons of ridiculous lyrics and visuals and Williams delivers the whole thing perfectly. There are a couple of other fun numbers, but for the most part the ones that stick with me are the Prince Ali song and A Whole New World. The former because it’s awesome and the latter because it is precisely the sort of song that sticks in my head and makes me renew my vow to avoid Disney movies. It’s a wistful power ballad that melds with Part of Your World in my head to form a sort of ur-earworm. And that is what South Part: Bigger, Longer and Uncut was parodying with Up There. Which gets immediately added to the mix so that in my mind I see Satan riding on a magic carpet and combing his hair with a fork. Yeah. Like I said, this is why I avoid Disney movies.

So Aladdin meets Princess Jasmine when she’s snuck out of the palace to experience life outside the confines of being a princess. He saves her when she breaks the law without realizing it and for his trouble the evil Grand Vizier, Jafar, grabs him to help with a scheme to gain access to the magical lamp. Aladdin ends up with the lamp and a magic carpet, wishes to become a prince and then there’s a parade! Of course Jafar manages to ruin Aladdin’s plans to woo the princess (well, Jafar and Aladdin’s inept attempts at being suave). He nabs the lamp, wishes for lots of power and wealth, and you can guess that they manage to turn the tables on him and all live happily ever after. As plots go it’s not the most complicated of stories. And the lessons it’s imparting aren’t complicated either. Be true to yourself, be honest with those you care about, give people the freedom to live their own lives. I can get behind all three of those.

What I can’t get behind are the plot holes. Leaving aside the fact that I have never seen a non-evil Grand Vizier in any movie ever (as a friend of mine mentioned, it seems to be a perk of the position), there are some issues with the plot. Much as I admire Jasmine’s insistence that she be allowed to marry who she wants, when she wants, if she wants, the whole movie revolves around Aladdin trying to convince her to marry him. And the whole plot point that the law says she must marry a prince? The movie hinges on it. Apparently she’s been tossing princes out on their rears for quite some time and her father is now frantic about getting her married off by her birthday or… um… it’s never made clear, I don’t think. The law says she has to marry a prince by her upcoming birthday “or else”. And then at the end the Sultan is all “Whatever, I make the law! Marry whoever you want!” If you loved your daughter so much, genius, why didn’t you fix that law in the beginning when it was so clearly an issue? And even disregarding that whole deus ex machina sort of ending, there’s the bit with the genie and Aladdin’s last wish. Why does he have to use his last wish for the genie? Sure, he promised, but why not wish himself a prince to satisfy the law (or wish for the law to change) then hand off the lamp to Jasmine and have her wish the genie free? All fixed! It’s the sort of set of plot points that sets my teeth on edge.

All in all, though, I do enjoy the movie. Plot issues and earworms aside, it’s beautiful to watch and it’s got Robin Williams. Apparently they had a ton of extra material from Williams’ recording sessions, not all of which was appropriate for a Disney movie. Oh, how I wish for some of that stuff to leak, because I would love to hear it. Unlikely, I suppose, so I’ll have to be content with what’s actually in the movie. And what’s in the movie is really a lot of fun. Added to the great animation and visuals, it makes for fun viewing. Just beware the earworm and don’t step in any plot holes.

June 27, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 1 Comment

Aladdin

June 27, 2011

Aladdin

I saw this for the first time on opening night at the Mann Chinese Theater in Hollywood. (Thank you Uncle Ken!) It was a spectacular experience with a whole chorus line performing songs from Beauty and the Beast before the feature and all the pomp and circumstance that a Hollywood premier should involve. (At least that’s my vague recollection… it might have been the Beauty and the Beast premier I’m remembering.)

What I do know is that I love this movie. It’s been a few years since I last watched it and I was surprised and relieved to find that it hasn’t really aged very much in the intervening time. Oh, the first verse of the opening song has been altered to make the movie less offensive, but other than that it’s the same movie I first saw in the theater. Even today I find that I enjoy the humor, the gorgeous animation and even the message of the movie.

In the same way that many Disney animated films are loosely based on fairy tales this movie is loosely based on tales from 1001 nights. A lovable rogue and thief on the streets of Aggrabah (a character familiar to us after having already reviewed two different versions of Thief of Bagdad) ends up in possession of a magic lamp containing an all-powerful Genie. Using his three wishes he attempts to gain the love of a princess, only to have the lamp stolen by a power-mad Vizier (is there any other kind) who wants to rule the world. That’s the rough outline. What makes the movie fun is what it does with that.

For one thing it has a fantastic and snappy collection of songs. This was the Alan Menkin and Tim Rice era of Disney musicals. Indeed there are many songs here that feel almost as though they are lifted directly from Little Mermaid in tone and spirit. I know that in Amanda’s book this is a down side because now she has songs from this movie caught in her brain, but I still enjoy them after all these years.

For another thing it has fantastic, fluid, beautiful animation throughout. I remember being very impressed at the time by some of the computer generated backgrounds such as during the magic carpet escape from the cave of wonders. It may look a little dated today, but at the time it was groundbreaking stuff.

I also enjoy the blatant messages in the plot. The notion that Aladdin should be honest about himself to win the heart of Princess Jasmine. The repeated insistence of Jasmine that she is not a prize to be won and deserves to make her own choice about whom she will marry. They’re simple morals but effective nonetheless, which is something Disney is fairly good at.

Of course all this pales in comparison with the one true reason to watch this movie. Two words: Robin Williams. This is his party, and everybody else is just invited along. His mile-a-minute riffs combined with the wild animation provided by teams of hard working animators results in a wonderful and mesmerizing experience. Amanda and I laughed at all the references that would sail right over the heads of children in the audience from Groucho Marx to Peter Lorre to Ed Sullivan. Then there are the bits that would have seemed topical at the time but are artifacts from a bygone era today, like his Arsenio Hall whooping. The truth is that no matter how many times I see this movie this shtick doesn’t get old. It’s Williams just doing his usual thing, albeit edited down for a G audience, and that’s just fun.

What can I say? This movie brings back happy memories. Memories of watching the film with my friend Rachel while she sang along. Memories of playing the classic SNES game based on the movie. (I think it has been re-released on virtual console for the Wii – I may have to buy it and play it again.) I know that for Amanda the result of watching this movie is that she wants us to own some Robin Williams stand-up routines, and I’m fine with that as well.

June 27, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment